Paleo: The Solution to My Battle with Colitis
Where do I begin? This journey started in October of 2004 when up until then I was a ‘normal’ teenage boy, going to grade 12 and playing as many sports as possible at school. I was the captain of both the volleyball team and the local A level hockey team. I was active all the time with practices 4 times a week, 2 hockey games and one volleyball tournament every weekend. That was the normal schedule from September to December when volleyball would end and then it was only hockey for sports that were outside of school time. This all changed though when shortly after Thanksgiving, which in Canada is the 2nd Monday of October, I started to have, as I know now, Ulcerative Colitis (UC) symptoms. These symptoms occurred for more than two months until I could no longer bare them and approached my mother (a 25-year nurse currently working in emergency) with the problems I was having. I am not sure why it took me so long to tell her about it, likely because the symptoms of UC and Crohn’s or other inflammatory bowel diseases are not flattering. For those people that don’t know the symptoms I will let you research them but the most common are intense bowel pains, cramping and bloody stool should the disease progress that far as well as always feeling the need to go to the washroom . So it is December of 2004, I have just informed my mom about my symptoms and she immediately takes me into emergency where I have no wait time due to how I look/feel and the doctor sees me right away. I have blood tests done and a scope (and not one that any person would enjoy) and they take biopsies of my large intestine.
The results come back and I am informed that I have Ulcerative Colitis and now need to start a major regimen of drugs, Prednisone mainly; and also Flagyl (metronidazole) and Cipro (ciprofloxacin). This ensued for the next 13 months. I ended up adding Imuran (azathioprine) to this deadly cocktail of drugs that were supposed to cure me, which takes 3 months of ingestion before it even starts to work. Needless to say a year later I was tired, out of shape, weak, cranky and fat due to the prednisone (my normal weight was a fit and lean 170 lbs., I was now 190 lbs. and not a lot of muscle). The side effects (or effects because you will get them) of these drugs are absolutely awful and I do not wish it upon anyone to be on them, here are a few of the main side effects: Prednisone – increased blood sugar, mood swings, weight gain, loss of thought, facial swelling, depression, fatigue, osteoporosis, severe join pain, anxiety; Flagyl – nausea, and diarrhea, also cannot consume alcohol while on it; Cipro – can have major side effects up to peripheral neuropathy, tendonitis and liver failure. As you can see the side effects of these drugs are nothing to laugh at and nothing that anyone should ever want to be on when there are other options such as the Paleo diet, but I’ll get there later. Needless to say I was unhappy and none of these drugs were making a difference, I was only getting worse. That Christmas after finishing my first semester of a Bachelor of Engineering from the University of Alberta in Edmonton, AB, Canada, I developed pneumonia and therefore this was not the best holiday. At this time my family and I decided to start looking into alternatives to the western way of dealing with IBD. I would like to stress that people should do some research on western medicine and how we “cure” people of diseases/syndromes. I say this because western medicine isn’t designed to cure IBD, it is designed to only treat it by having you ingest medications for extended periods of time, and this process only keeps repeating itself. Anyway, we started researching natural path remedies and possible diet changes. It’s at this time that I WISH I would have found Paleo but alas this was not to be the case. I went back to school for the 2nd semester and my mom decided to tag along with me for the first couple weeks to help deal with changing my diet to what we thought would help from reading on natural path diets. I am not sure exactly what that diet was but I know that it included no dairy and cutting out wheat however it didn’t last long. The 3rd day into the semester was one of the worst days in my whole life and my mom decided to take me to the emergency again, thank God for her being with me at that time, because I am sure I would have been too stubborn or embarrassed to go.
This trip to the hospital was even more eventful and one of the last few times that I would go to a hospital again. I walked in, was so dehydrated that I was sent right into the back and hooked up to an IV to get fluids in me. The blood tests followed along with another scope. This time the results were even worse. My WHOLE large intestine had deteriorated to the point where it could not be saved, the hospital booked a room for me, the doctor came in and told me I could go on a new drug they were testing but most likely I would have to have my large intestine removed anyway as he figured I was months away from contracting Bowel Cancer, therefore my surgery date was set for 15 days later. These 15 days were some of the hardest times I’ve had to endure; I was not allowed to eat as they were prepping my bowels for the surgery, therefore I felt I was starving even though I was getting ‘sufficient’ nutrients through IV. I lost a massive amount of weight in that short period of time due to not being able to eat and the 20+ bowel movements I was having a day. My pre-hospital weight was between 180-190 lbs. and after I left the hospital which was a 21 day stint including the recovery time from the surgery I was a mere 130 lbs., a weight I had not been since I was 14. The surgery is called the J-pouch surgery or ileoanal reservoir total colectomy; it’s an intense surgery performed in 2 parts. The first is to remove the whole large bowel; the small intestine is then divided into 2 parts with the lower part formed into a pouch (J-pouch) with a volume of approximately 1 cup, the higher portion is protruded outside of the body where they attach an ileostomy bag. I had to live this way for 4 months while the lower portion of the small intestine (J-pouch) healed, I then had a second surgery to ‘reverse’ the ileostomy and hook the small intestine back together. Needless to say I dropped out of university for that semester but was determined to not let this disease get the best of me. I headed back to university the following September and completed my Mechanical Engineering degree in May of 2009.
At this point they call you ‘cured’ from ulcerative colitis. This may be true as you no longer have a large bowel for the disease to attack but you are anything but normal or ‘cured’. You need to learn how to control bowel movements again and adjust to having 6-8 movements a day due to there not being anymore storage capacity. Although this may sound horrible, compared to the horrific pain of living with UC and all the side effects of the drug cocktail that I was on; this felt like and still does feel like freedom. I was and am medication free.
So you may be asking yourself how does this fit in with the Paleo diet or where am I getting to. Well I lived like this from June 2006 until June 2011 with little to no symptoms of colitis. As you may not know, after you have the surgery you can develop what is called “pouchitis” which essentially is colitis of the J-pouch, it has all the same symptoms as Ulcerative Colitis. I had a few bouts of pouchitis over the 5 years and every time was back on cipro and flagyl for 3 weeks and this cleared it up. Other than that I ‘seemed’ to be able to eat and drink what I wanted without consequence or so I told myself. In June of 2011 I became sick again with another bout of pouchitis and this time it was worse than all the others, I had full blown colitis symptoms. I went to the doctor and was put on Cipro and a different form of flagyl as the last time I had an adverse reaction to it. The regime was supposed to be for 3 weeks and this would again ‘cure’ me. This was when I found PALEO. I had been on the drugs for 5 days and nothing was getting better, if anything I was getting worse, and I was getting depressed as I had seen this all before. The medications quit working and I have no more intestines to lose, should the meds not work the doctors will want to set me with an ileostomy bag for life. At this point I turned to one of my best friends who, until now, I thought was crazy for the type of eating habits he maintained; he told me he had Celiac’s disease and was also lactose intolerant (I think this was just his way of not having to explain Paleo to everyone). I turned to him, I was done with the meds and decided to take myself off of them as they were not making me healthier and the side effects were only making things worse.
It was that fateful day of June 26, 2011 that I was introduced to the Paleo diet and lifestyle. I had my meeting with him in the afternoon; he is a trainer at a local gym and an ex-crossfit athlete. He told me about the diet, what to avoid and what to eat, what supplements to start taking (Vit D and Omega-3). Some of this was not new to me as I had dabbled with taking out dairy and bread before but never to this extent and never legumes or sugar. I left the gym with a printout of the FAQ of Robb’s site, the quick start guide and the grocery list; as soon as I got home I bought the book. That night I cooked my first Paleo meal and have never looked back.
After 5 days of Paleo eating I was SYMPTOM FREE!!! I thought that this had to be a miracle. A few days of eating healthy and all my pain and symptoms were gone. Needless to say I started wondering what would have happened if I had found this diet 6 years before, maybe I would still have all my organs but I am not one to droll on the past but look to the future and that is why I am writing this article. I want to help those who are having IBD symptoms or have been diagnose with Crohn’s disease or colitis.
This lifestyle (I don’t want to call it a diet as that seems like a fad and this is for life) will help you. I have been living the Paleo lifestyle now for 7 months and have never felt better. I have toned down and started building muscle with the workout regime I’m on; I am playing several different sports at this time, have more energy than I know what to do with and am very productive at work. No longer do I get the 2 o’clock slump in my work day. I have no symptoms of ulcerative colitis anymore and NO PAIN, which for me is something that I have not felt for 7 years.
My suggestion for people that have IBD or those that have been diagnosed with Crohn’s or colitis would be to read the quick start guide that Robb has provided. Immediately get off of all grains, dairy, legumes and sugar. Start the Paleo diet, get the book and read it, don’t skim any sections actually read the whole book and understand the science and truth behind this diet and why it works; and why the diet that is pushed to us through our health and medical systems does not work. Trust me; you do not want to go through the drug cocktail and side effects that I did which don’t work anyways. Start this lifestyle and you can live medication free, be healthier and more fit than you ever have, live life to the fullest. There is nothing to lose other than the terrible pain that IBD causes. I know there can be hesitation to give up the grains and sugars you like so much (are addicted to) but stick it out for 30 days without cheating and I guarantee you will see results in your symptoms and how you feel.
If anyone has any other questions on what life is like living with Ulcerative Colitis or what it is like after having the surgery, please feel free to ask.
As a side note my parents and sister are on this as well and have been for about 5 months with great results. My mom and sister also suffered from IBD symptoms for their whole lives without any success of controlling it with medication. They all now feel so much healthier, they have no symptoms, my dad has lost 35 lbs. so far; they all agree that they have way more energy.
I would personally like to thank Robb Wolf for his research and guidance with this topic. Without him I would be on so many meds and so unhealthy, I don’t even want to think about what life would be like.
- Miles Miller